It’s not possible for any forum to decide on grounds of faith, belief

Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, Ayodhya verdict
The Supreme Court on November 9 paved the way for the construction of a Ram Temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya, while directing the Centre to allot a 5-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a mosque. Photo: PTI

The apex court, putting an end to the litigation over the birth place of Lord Ram paved way for construction of temple as dreamt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). The ‘disputed land’ in Ayodhya has been given to a trust, which will be formed for building a temple, where the Babri once stood, till its demolition in 1992.  With the new trust’s direction, VHP’s dream to build a Ram temple will be fulfilled.

Also read | Ayodhya verdict: Here are the key takeaways from the judgement

The Supreme Court tried to satisfy the faith and feelings of the both disputing communities – Hindus and Muslims – by handing over place believed to be the birth place of Lord Ram to the trust for temple and directing five acres of land in Ayodhya for construction of a mosque. It resolved all legal and technical issues finally in a unanimous and clear judgment. Though SC found that there was Hindu temple below and before the Babri mosque, it said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had no evidence to show that a temple was demolished to construct a mosque. This is an effort to avoid any possible conclusion that might enrage communal feelings on either side.

The points of law relating to controversial aspects of litigation are:

  • Faith and belief: Most important constitutional point is that the Supreme Court decided not to interfere with the faith and belief of worshippers as secularism is basic feature of the Constitution.
  • Ownership: The title or ownership of the dispute land is not decided on points of law or evidence but it was directed that the possession of the inner and outer courtyards of the dispute structure will be given to a trust to be formed for erecting a temple. This means the title and possession-based contentions of the either side are not accepted by five-judge bench.
  • Mollifying Muslims: A plot of five acres in Ayodhya had to be given to Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque. This also is not a conclusion on legal aspect of the suit but a suggestion to satisfy the feelings of the Muslim community.
  • Title woes: The decision on the disputed title of Hindus or Muslims cannot be based on the expert report only.
  • Muslim claims fall flat: The claim of Muslims on the ground of adverse possession was also not accepted as threshold was not met.
  • Plain speak: Destruction of Babri structure was against the rule of law. It also held that introduction of Ram idols in 1949 into disputes structure was also illegal.
  • Courtyard point: Hindus were worshipping in the outer courtyard of the disputed site, while no evidence was available to show Muslims were in possession of inner courtyard prior to 1857.
  • Not on the same page: The Supreme Court did not agree with the Allahabad high court saying that Hindu and Muslim parties besides Nirmohi Akhara were holding the joint title to the disputed property and that the property should be split three ways equally.  This verdict was stayed in May 2011 and now finally not agreed upon. SC held the high court judgment dividing land between three parties was wrong.
  • Accommodation: While holding that Nirmohi Akhara suit was not maintainable and that it has no priestly rights to worship, SC suggested this group to be given appropriate representation in the trust.
  • Balance: The petition of Shia Waqf Board against Sunni Board to Babri mosque was dismissed.
  • Nyas shown the door: Ram Janmsthan Nyas’ claim over the construction of temple is rejected and a different trust to take up such activity was directed.
  • ASI ‘proof’: Based on archaeological evidence the SC held that the Babri mosque was not constructed on vacant land but there was a Hindu structure at that site earlier. However, it did not find any ASI evidence to show that any Hindu temple was demolished to construct a mosque. This reduces the possible anger or wrath against the Muslim community on this excuse.

The verdict puts an end to five suits filed between 1950 and 1989. The leading case on the issue was a consolidation of four suits, which a Faizabad civil judge ordered on January 6, 1964. Uttar Pradesh filed an application in Allahabad HC seeking withdrawal of these four suits from the court of Munsif Sadar and transferring them to the Allahabad high court. They were transferred accordingly.

Also read | How the legal battle to acquire Ayodhya land panned out over the years

In another instance, the original Suit 1 of 1989 Visharad claimed right to worship the idol of Bhagwan Sri Ram Chandra Ji and charan paduka (foot prints) at Janam Bhumi. Injunction against removal of idols of Sri Ram was also sought. The second suit, Regular Suit No 25 of 1950 (OOS No 2 of 1989) was filed by Paramhans Ramchandra Das on December 5, 1950 against Muslim residents seeking the same relief as sought in first suit.  This was withdrawn.

Another Regular Suit No 26 of 1959 was filed by Nirmohi Akhara claiming that birthplace belonged to their trust. Regular Suit No 12 of 1961 referred to as Suit No 4 was filed by Sunni Central Board of Waqfs UP and nine individual Muslims of Ayodhya against Hindus in favour of Muslims claiming that an ancient mosque called Babri Masjid existing for more than 400 years. The fifth suit was filed in 1989 by Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman as a judicial person claiming the right to have a temple at Ayodhya.

Pertinent questions

What Apex Court ruling on Saturday (November 11) is neither evidence-based adjudication of a land dispute nor possession-based evaluation of ownership rights as per law. In the absence of concrete evidence to the claims of Hindus and Muslims, it is not possible for any forum to decide such critical issues only on the grounds of faith and belief. If introduction of idols and demolition of structure was illegal, there should be some legal consequences from those acts, what are they?

The legal basis of allocation of disputed land to a trust to be formed and authorisation of government to use that land for construction of temple is also not known.

(M Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central Information Commissioner and Dean, School of Law, Bennett University)

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